Ukraine-Russia War: Watch Biden’s Announcement on Russian Oil Ban
The day after Russia invaded Ukraine, Maria Hawranek did what hundreds of thousands of Poles would soon do: she registered to host refugees at her home in Krakow.
In the evening, she received a call: a family from Lviv was on their way.
“We didn’t even discuss it,” said Ms. Hawranek, a freelance journalist whose partner, also a journalist, immediately left to cover the war. “It was obvious that we were going to do it.”
Of the 1.7 million people who have fled Ukraine since the start of the invasion, more than a million have made their way to Poland, according to the United Nations.
This massive and sudden influx of refugees sparked a huge grassroots movement in Polish society, as individuals stepped up to raise funds and provide free accommodation and transportation for refugees.
More than 500,000 Poles have joined a nationwide Facebook group coordinating support. In some places, supply exceeded demand, with local authorities calling on citizens to refrain from driving to the border to offer free rides as they caused traffic jams.
Years of nationalist and anti-refugee policies have left Poland with a fragmented immigration system. It is now primarily up to citizens to manage what the UNHCR has said is “the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.”
Ms. Hawranek’s guests arrived on Friday evening: Kostiantyn Komkov, software developer, Olena Poretskova, costume designer, and their 5-year-old son, Tomas. As soon as the invasion began, the family immediately left their Lviv apartment to friends evacuating from Kiev and crossed the border into Poland. “I had been anticipating an attack for the past two years, and when I saw Russian troops building on the border, I knew that was it,” Ms Poretskova said.
For Tanja Fedchyk, a nurse from Luck, western Ukraine, who has also found asylum in Poland, the decision to stay or leave was not instantaneous. When the Russian army first entered eastern Ukraine, she and her husband decided to wait 24 hours. “We were hoping the situation wouldn’t turn into a full-scale invasion,” Ms Fedchyk said. “But as the hours passed, it became apparent that things were only getting worse.”
The next morning, Ms. Fedchyk and her 2-year-old son, Tymi, got into a car and drove to Wroclaw, Poland. The trip went relatively well except for a 10 hour wait at the border. But saying goodbye to their husband and father, who stayed in Luck to build barricades, left them heartbroken.
In Wroclaw, they are hosted by Robert and Hana Reisigová-Kielawski, an English-speaking university professor and human resources manager, who live with their two children. The couple didn’t have a spare bedroom in the apartment, so they moved their 5-year-old daughter into their bedroom.
“Waiting for them to arrive, we got nervous,” Mr. Reisigová-Kielawski said. “We had no idea what physical and emotional state they would be in. I wondered how we should behave to be as helpful as possible, but also not to overwhelm them. Which questions should we discuss and which should not be said? »
One thing was clear from the start: they didn’t ask their guests how long they were planning to stay. Their invitation had no expiration date.
But every time they asked if Ms. Fedchyk needed anything, she replied, “No, thank you. We are only here for a few days. As the invasion unfolded, however, it became apparent that those days could turn into weeks, perhaps longer.
Since the start of the war, Ukrainians on both sides of the border have faced uncertainty. In Poland, the government is preparing an emergency bill that will facilitate Ukrainians’ access to the labor market and certain social benefits enjoyed by permanent residents.
Commentators have pointed out that the warm reception of Ukrainian refugees has drawn a stark contrast to the public response to the humanitarian crisis on the border with Belarus, which peaked in October. The government has not opened the border to these refugees, most of them from the Middle East, and it has barred aid workers from the border region – policies widely supported by Poles.
The Reisigová-Kielawski, long active in various refugee aid programs, were frustrated.
“During this crisis, the government has made it extremely difficult for Poles to help refugees, and unfortunately many people have chosen to look the other way,” Reisigová-Kielawski said, adding. “The grassroots movement to help Ukrainians that we are seeing right now is huge and heartwarming, but I feel it is also coupled with a sense of guilt that as a society we don’t We didn’t do enough at the time.”